‘New Neutrals’ is the first collection by luxury handbag brand AprelleDuany. The four bags that make up the debut collection are named in honour of “pioneering” women of colour: Maya Angelou, Miriam Makeba, Wangari Maathai and Hattie McDaniel. The brand hopes that with this association and by focusing on “innovation and functionality” their designs can inspire women, no matter their circumstance, to chase their dreams.
Aprelle Duany, the designer and founder of AprelleDuany, has always loved design but growing up poor she decided to focus on technology knowing it would guarantee her a good job. Sure enough, Aprelle found and excelled in a role at PwC in New York City. Several years into her position as an IT auditor she experienced something of a ‘mid-life crisis’ when she was offered a promotion and realised she didn’t want the position offered.
She took some time off to reflect and decided to take a one-year course, with a focus on accessories, at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, Aprelle had planned to find a job in a fashion house but her husband, who had left his home country, now South Sudan, as a child, really felt “the pull” to return home and develop his country.
Although a huge transition from Manhattan to Juba, Aprelle tells me she learnt a lot about herself and the world and even started an NGO. However in 2012, with a growing family and – Aprelle adds with a laugh – “getting tired of chasing mosquitoes”, the Duanys moved to Nairobi, where Aprelle worked as CEO of established brand KikoRomeo for two years.
It was the unfortunate events, in December 2013, during Aprelle’s last visit to South Sudan that motivated her to finally pursue her dream and start her own fashion line. When violence broke out, Aprelle and her family had to be evacuated to Nairobi. After this “horrible experience”, unlike anything Aprelle had ever experienced, she decided: “If I don’t pursue what is in my head… what a wasted life”.
A love of handbags combined with the realisation that handbags are “the most essential tool in a woman’s wardrobe… you don’t leave your house without your handbag”, Aprelle decided to focus on handbags. She initially wanted to produce in Africa but had to settle on outsourcing to a group of artisans in Europe to achieve her desired luxury quality. However, having recently happened on a high-quality manufacturer in Kenya, she may shift at least 30% of production to the continent.
Aprelle’s exquisite bags are made from calfskin sourced in Europe. The interior is either suede or African fabric sourced in Nairobi, such as in the bag pictured above. The bags are available in various sizes and colours but only by pre-order at exclusive events and through catalogue requests. Aprelle hopes that by distributing through exclusive channels she will be able to have one-on-one’s with her clients as she develops her brand.
Photograph courtesy of AprelleDuany.